Failure to Protect Laws: Protecting Children or Punishing Mothers?

Brenda M. Ewen, MSN, RN, D-ABMDI, CFN


J Foren Nurs. 2007;3(2):84-86. 

In This Article


So-called "failure to protect" charges trigger CPS and move jurisdiction of exposure cases to juvenile or child dependency courts. Use of these statutes for this purpose is highly controversial, in part, stemming from the philosophical views of the two groups most involved with children exposed to IPV: CPS and the IPV community.

The legal mandate and societal directive for CPS is protecting the child. Protection is achieved through investigation and intervention including removing the child from the home if necessary. Failure to protect laws are seen by some CPS workers as a way to motivate IPV victims to act (Findlater & Kelly, 1999). Identifying children exposed to IPV can reduce harm and decrease the risk of the co-occurrence of IPV and child abuse (Kintner, 2005). Failure to protect statutes protect children from the burden of adult issues and harsh realities. Consistency in handling the cases sends a message to victims, abusers, children, and society that exposure to IPV is harmful and will not be tolerated (Weithorn, 2001).

The IPV community sees failure to protect statutes as punitive, misguided and gender biased (Little & Kantor, 2002; Weithorn, 2001). Advocates for victims of IPV work to empower victims by giving them back the control their abusers took from them. Empowerment is not gained through obedience to social or legal expectations (Peled, Eisikovits, Enosh, & Winstok, 2000). Empowerment is achieved through independent choices and control. Advocates believe that respecting the adult victim's autonomy and providing them with information and resources will ultimately work to protect the child (Lewis, 2003).


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